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Scotland: Bluebells and Gorse, Castles and Stones, and NO Rain!

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Scotland: Bluebells and Gorse, Castles and Stones, and NO Rain!

Old Jun 13th, 2016, 06:44 PM
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Scotland: Bluebells and Gorse, Castles and Stones, and NO Rain!

Just a beginning, as this will be quite detailed and will take me a few days. But let me say to begin, I want to go back. Like tomorrow. What an amazing country and what friendly, kind people! I sort of expected it, but still was overwhelmed by Scotland. I am in love.

Over two years ago, my sisters and I began making plans for travel to Scotland, and I have perused threads and trip reports since then, garnering ideas, crossing some off the list when they took us too far to be feasible in the limited time available, asking questions and receiving knowledgable responses for which I am very grateful.

Finally, the day had arrived. Only one sister, B, and a friend, C, were able to accompany me, but here we were on our way to Scotland. We were going Air New Zealand because I had received a Cyber Monday offer for $400 off any tickets, any time. We flew non-stop to London on Air New Zealand and then transferred to British Airways for the short flight to Edinburgh. This was, IMO, the best option for us because there are no direct flights to EDR from LAX and I wanted a nice long first leg so that we could (hopefully) get some sleep. Worked for me; for my sister, not so much.

19-22 May
Our Edinburgh accommodation was an apartment just off the royal mile with a castle view: www.apartmentsbycastle.com Apartment 16/4, owned by Moira and Eric. Unfortunately, we had correspondence from Moira that there was a bike race in Edinburgh the day of our arrival and this year the route would go directly down Johnson Terrace, the street on which our apartment was located. Bummer. It meant that a taxi would not be able to let us off in front of the apartment. We would have to settle for as close as the driver could get us and walk the rest of the way. This would not ordinarily be a problem but B has some mobility issues and we were a bit concerned since we did not know the lay of the land, so to speak.

Turned out, we had reason to be concerned. The driver let us off at the bottom of Johnson Terrace and we had to push our bags up the hill to the apartment. Fortunately, the Castle was high above us, wowing us with amazing views as we slowly climbed the hill. Frequent photo stops allowed us to take our time till Eric was on hand to help get our bags up the two flights of stairs to our home for three nights. It was a comfortable two bedroom apartment with lots of character and an amazing view of the castle from the lounge and one of the bedrooms. I had arranged with Moira to have some meats and cheese – and wine – on hand when we arrived in case we did not want to go out to dinner. Plus, we had a view of bicyclists whizzing down our street, first the amateurs, then the pros. It was nearly perfect.

C and I did eventually go out to see a bit of Edinburgh and have something more substantial to eat. This evening we had our ONLY rain of the trip. Crazy Scotland decided to be on it’s best behavior, weather-wise, and we were well pleased. We eventually found a small pub/café called Biblios where I had a bowl of red lentil soup that was delicious! The waiter gave us a “student discount” as he said, “Because I can”.
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Old Jun 13th, 2016, 06:48 PM
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The next day we planned a walk down the royal mile to Holyrood Palace and Abbey. Our intention was for C to climb Arthur’s seat while B and I toured the Palace and Abbey. We found lots of fun shops and souvenirs, stopping for a fairly forgettable lunch at a pub along the way – forgettable except that I had another bowl of red lentil soup. We went inside St. Giles Cathedral and paid the £2 in order to take photos. Very beautiful church.

We got to the bottom of the royal mile and arranged to meet C at 5:30 so that we could take a taxi back to our apartment. We had special dinner plans that evening and didn’t want to take too long to walk back up the hill.

However, when B and I went in to purchase tickets for the Palace and Abbey, we were told it was closed that day due to the arrival of some Official of the Church of Scotland. Dang. I guess we should have thought to check the website to be sure the Palace would be open. Oh well. We had to settle for quick view of the grounds and then a band of pipers and men in kilts marching down the side street to the Palace. Quite a sight and sound!

B and I hung around a bit, enjoying the beautiful, sunny day. We had tea in the Palace café and basically waited for C who finished her hike and met us at about 5:00. Taxi back to our apartment and change for dinner.

This was our special dinner night at The Kitchin in Leith: http://thekitchin.com/ It turned out that Tom Kitchin actually has another restaurant, the Castle Terrace Restaurant, just down the street from our apartment, but we were going to the restaurant in Leith.

Wow. Thank you, janisj, for this suggestion. It was simply spectacular beginning with drinks in the bar and ending with dessert. I had a scallop and asparagas starter, duck breast main, and chocolate souffle dessert. That’s the facts and does not begin to describe the deliciousness of this meal. Suffice to say, not only was the food amazing, but we were treated very well. Casual elegance, with each dish described in detail. It was wonderful. Expensive, but wonderful. What a treat!
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Old Jun 13th, 2016, 07:15 PM
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Oh -- terrific -- good weather, great food, view of the castle -- great start. Looking forward to your whole TR.

I sometimes worry about recommending restaurants -- but I honestly think one could never go wrong at Kitchin
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Old Jun 13th, 2016, 09:37 PM
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You were right, janis. One thing I forgot to mention is we received a small map of Scotland which told us where the protein had come from. It was very cool as his philosophy is "from nature to plate".
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 03:53 AM
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'We eventually found a small pub/café called Biblios where I had a bowl of red lentil soup that was delicious! The waiter gave us a “student discount” as he said, “Because I can”.

I love this!
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 05:24 AM
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Oh, too bad about missing the Palace! I'd read about the closure before we left home and was relieved to see we'd timed it just right. We really did just miss each other. Glad to hear the beautiful weather held out.
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 08:06 AM
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A childhood friend of my husband is a monk in Glasgow, where we visited him two years ago. We recently saw his brother, and asked how he was doing. The brother said, "He's fine, but says that it's raining every day." Is this the same country? Anyway, when we were there for almost two weeks, we never opened an umbrella, and there was a sort of heat wave, with temperatures up in the 80s. I even got a sunburn in Scotland!

We ate at Biblos several times when we were in Edinburgh. I thought it was a chain, but maybe I'm wrong. It had good, reasonably priced food. In fact, that was the case nearly everywhere in Scotland.
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 12:31 PM
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Ha, bvlenci! We did not go to Glasgow so I can't say. But the further west and north we went, the better the weather got.

Next day was our last full day in Edinburgh and it was Castle Day. And that pretty much took the entire day. We do love our castles and this one is quite amazing. (Yes, I use that word a lot.)

We began by doing a bit more shopping on our end of the royal mile and then C and I took our purchases back to the apartment – another advantage of the convenient location. We walked the steps which ran right along our apartment building, up to the Castle Esplanade, and met B at the top.

Words fail me in describing the Castle. It was windy and cool/cold but sunny and clear and we could literally see for miles. The views from everywhere are spectacular! The Castle itself is imposing and inspiring and awesome!

We had no sooner gained entry to the Castle grounds than it was 1pm – time for cannon fire! It’s only one shot, but it’s a very loud one.

It’s difficult to pick my favorite part of the Castle, but certainly viewing the Honours of Scotland was one of them. The oldest Royal Regalia in Britain since Cromwell got his hands on the English crown jewels and melted them down. He tried but failed to do the same to Scotland’s and thank goodness for that! They are beautiful – and now include the Stone of Destiny.

B and C had actually been to Edinburgh for a short visit quite some time ago, and to London. At that time, the Stone was under the Coronation Chair (King Edward’s Chair) in Westminster Abbey so it was particularly meaningful to them to see it now in Edinburgh Castle.

We were able to take our time in this room and make a couple trips around the exhibition so as to really view it all.

Another highlight for me was the small room off the bed chamber of Mary, Queen of Scots where she gave birth to her son, the soon-to-be King Jams VI, I. Also, the remnants of David’s Tower, and St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. Really amazing.

Oh, and Mons Meg, the cannon! I had read a wonderful book “Scotland, the Story of a Nation” by Magnus Magnusson prior to this trip (highly recommended) and this cannon is prominently featured in Scottish history. It was fun to see it in person.

After a great visit to the Castle, we were ready for lunch. Right across Johnson Terrace from our apartment was a pub recommended to us by Eric, the apartment owner. The name escapes me right now, but it had the word “Castle” in it, as I recall. Anyway, perfectly placed for a nice lunch and then back to the apartment to rest up a bit. Tonight C and I would be doing the Real Mary King’s Close tour.

Real Mary King’s Close. Well, it was interesting - corny, but interesting. I don’t think I can recommend it as a “must do”, but I’m glad we did it just for the historical information and to see how people actually lived in those times.

This, our last evening, we toasted Edinburgh with a wee dram and had an early night. We barely scratched the surface of this lovely city and will need to return, but the next day would begin our Real Scottish Adventure.
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 12:40 PM
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C has just reminded me that the name of the pub across the street from our apartment was the Castle Arms.
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 01:40 PM
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Loving that you read Magnus Magnusson before coming, ideal material if you are really going to appreciate the history. Delighted by your weather, but particularly delighted when people realise the Real Scottish Adventure starts when you venture out of our central belt cities, fabulous though they are. You didn't make it to Glasgow?? Well, you'll just have to come back, then, won't you...
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Old Jun 14th, 2016, 01:50 PM
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Oh, absolutely, L_A - no doubt we will have to return.

Magnusson's book was so good - very easy reading, but very comprehensive. I found having that historical background really added to everything about this trip.
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 10:14 AM
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23-24 May
We took a taxi from our apartment to EDR and found the Auto Europe car rental counter. After a bit of “discussion” it was decided that B and C would be drivers and I would be navigator, partly because I was the one who had done all the map studying and route plotting and partly because my family had a fear of me driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Something about me being a distracted driver when on the freeways of L.A. and so not to be trusted in the beauty of Scotland . . . Whatever.

Anyway, we upgraded slightly to some sort of Volvo (automatic) with a lovely GPS we eventually trusted completely and named Fiona. I say “eventually” because it took us a day to really figure out how she worked and I always had an old-school map in my lap just to be sure. This Volvo was a super-car with amazing tires that never went flat (and we tested them occasionally). Lovely.

Right. Located the headlights and windshield wipers – and a/c – and off we went to Stirling Castle. It was a bit of a challenge with a slight (unintentional but lucky) detour that took us to Bannockburn Battlefield where we asked an actual human for directions, reloaded the GPS (correctly this time) and, between the two, found the Castle.

Another ‘wow’ moment. What an amazing setting for an imposing castle! The castle itself was perhaps slightly less impressive than Edinburgh Castle, but you cannot beat the history. And the views were just gorgeous! After touring the Castle, we set off to find the old Stirling Bridge, which is now pedestrian only. We did find it (at last) and were able to take some beautiful photos of it and the River Forth. Between the Castle and Bridge, we probably spent 3 hours in Stirling. Now to get out of town and on our way.

Just a note: This was to be our longest driving day. Circumstances (our desire to stay at a certain accommodation in Luss on Loch Lomond) meant we must do Stirling, Inchmahome, and then drive to Kilmartin on this, our first day driving on the left side of the road. Probably not the smartest thing we had planned, but it worked in the end and nothing was shorted, except for a side trip to Doune Castle. Too bad we missed it (B and I being Outlander fans), but it would have meant possibly missing Inchmahome and that would have been catastrophic.

There was definitely a learning curve, not only for the Driver (B on this day), but for me, the Navigator. This led to a bit of sisterly “back-and-forth” with C playing Peace-Maker in the back seat, but all’s well that ends well and we found the little dock at Port of Menteith for our boat ride to Inchmahome Priory.

Bad news: Due to a winter of excessive rain rather than snow, the walls of the Priory have become unstable which necessitated barriers put up to keep people out of them so no one would be hurt from possible falling pieces. Very sad.

Good news: Bluebells, bluebells, bluebells!!!!! Wow! My first sight of bluebells and they were everywhere! What an absolutely enchanting place – so peaceful and so awe-inspiring. The barriers around the ruins did little to detract from the grace of this place. Again thanks to janisj – I know this place is especially meaningful for her.

We were among the last to leave the island and then began our long drive through amazingly beautiful country, around the lakes of the Trossachs, and down the peninsula to Kilmartin, arriving just in time to check into our B&B: oldmansekilmartin.co.uk and to have a lovely dinner at the Kilmartin Hotel restaurant, where I had some of the best mac n cheese I have ever tasted - and a lovely drink to relax after the long drive, of course.

I cannot recommend The Old Manse B&B more highly. It is immaculate in cleanliness, beautifully furnished with the most comfy beds, and Di and David were extremely hospitable. And its location is perfect for visiting the Kilmartin Museum and the amazing fields of Stones.
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 10:34 AM
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Loving your report, LC! Because of our desire to see Cornwall, we nixed the idea of driving around Scotland, so I'll live vicariously through your experience. That first day of driving is just extra exciting, isn't it? It gets easier - sort of!
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 01:34 PM
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Ah, BB, thanks for tagging along. Cornwall is definitely on my list but will probably have to depend on a certain Lee Mead doing a concert there . . .

In the meantime, I'm also following your trip report.

The next day we began with a very delicious breakfast at the Old Manse, gathered our bags as this was our one and only night there, and soon were on our way to the Kilmartin House Museum just down the road. This is a small but very comprehensive museum of artifacts found in the fields just outside the windows. We then walked down the road and into the back “yard” of an auto repair shop, followed the sign which says “Kilmartin Glebe Cairn”. Through the gate and across the field, we saw our first cairn.

It’s hard to explain how magical and mystical it is to walk across fields of sheep or cattle, (dodging poo-piles), and coming face-to-face with stones placed just so some 4000 years ago. This, Glebe Cairn, was the first in a line of cairns that goes for over 2 miles – five of which still remain. Four are found along this short and very easy walk.

After several minutes, we crossed a bridge over a small creek and followed the gravel road/walkway to each of the Nether Largie cairns, each with a marker describing how it was excavated and what it is believed to have been originally. You can climb the stones of the cairns and actually climb down into them. I did this at the last one. It was easy climbing in. The trick was climbing out.

However, just as I was wondering how I would manage this, there appeared three men in kilts (I kid you not!) who lent their assistance and literally pulled me out of the cairn. Talk about magical! Whew!

The entire walk is just beautiful as it runs down Kilmartin Glen, past a primary school and someone’s home with the washing hung to dry – everyday life just across the road from these ancient remembrances of previous life. Really surreal.

A highlight is Temple Wood Circle – two stone circles originally used for ceremonial purposes which are not clear now, but which undoubtedly had to do with the movement of Sun and Moon and the seasons. And sprinkled here and there with a blanket of bluebells, buttercups, and Queen Anne’s lace. Magical.

We walked back down the trail and up the hillside to our car which we had left in the museum parking lot. We had a bite to eat in the museum café and shopped a bit in the gift shop before driving to the location of Dunadd, the hill upon which kings of the Scotti – and peoples before them – had been crowned, possibly since the Iron Age. C took the hike up the hill to place her foot in the print in stone (those kings seem to have had small feet . . .).

Another note: I brought some sort of virus with me on this trip and it was beginning to do a number on me. Very sore throat and croupy cough. Nasty and it kept me from hiking for a while till the cough got better. By then B caught it, of course. Too bad, but better to be sick in Scotland . . .

Anyway, after the climb, we headed back towards Kilmartin once again for what was for me the pièce de résistance: the most amazing, quite large, standing stones, four standing parallel to two more about fifty yards away – almost as if they were playing a game of Red Rover (showing my age). Also a Henge – the only henge in Western Scotland, and the fifth of the line of cairns. What a wonderful end to a perfect day. I cannot say what my favorite day in Scotland was, but this was one of them.

We all three were extremely moved by this beautiful, mystical Glen. But now it was time for our comparatively short drive to Luss and our guesthouse on Loch Lomond.
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 02:21 PM
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>>Good news: Bluebells, bluebells, bluebells!!!!! Wow!
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 03:04 PM
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Oh -- I just looked at the website and it says >>Please note that we are currently carrying out essential conservation works at Inchmahome Priory to ensure future generations can enjoy this site. In doing so we keep traditional skills alive.
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 03:36 PM
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Oh that's good to know. I was just going by what the boat captain told us.

When we were there, the barriers were low ones designed to keep people out but it sounds like they may become more extensive as they do conservation work.
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Old Jun 16th, 2016, 06:09 PM
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23-25 May
Culag Lochside Guesthouse, Luss http://www.culag.info/ A lovely guesthouse literally on the shore of Loch Lomond about 1 mile north of Luss. A more picturesque location could not be found and Patrick was a charmer. We had a two-story family room with the bathroom downstairs. Since I was pretty ill by this time and B did not fancy climbing downstairs in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, she asked Patrick to move the rollaway bed from upstairs to downstairs, which he gladly did, rearranging furniture to accommodate us. This way C had the upstairs all to herself and B and I had separate beds downstairs.

So peaceful and so beautiful. And did I mention that it never gets dark in Scotland in late May? Not literally, of course, but that time of day after sunset till darkness falls (the gloaming?) really seems to last forever.

Our first night, we went to a small bistro in Luss for a forgettable dinner. But nevermind. The town is a conservation village – beautiful tan/grey-stone houses, a small sandy beach where children played the next day, lilacs (my favorite flower) and wisteria, and that beautiful loch.

We had two nights at Culag Lochside, so one full day at Loch Lomond. We began with the included breakfast in the lovely conservatory. We wanted to get out on the loch but did not fancy taking one of the larger cruises you can take from Tarbert, about 10 miles away. So we headed to Luss and found ads for a shorter cruise across the loch. It was supposed to have narrative by a naturalist – and it did – but it was pre-recorded so that was a bit disappointing. But there is nothing more lovely than being out on the water of a beautiful loch and this cruise worked for us in that regard.

Unfortunately, I was not doing well afterward. We attempted to find some cold medicine at the gift shop/convenience store because I had used up all that we brought with us. B and C then took me back to our room and I pretty much slept the rest of the day while they hiked around the area. B has lovely photos which I appreciate. At least it was a quiet, peaceful place to be sick. *eternal optimist* :'(

We did go for a much better dinner that evening to the Inn at Loch Lomond – where we had thought about staying. I’m so happy we didn’t because it is across the highway from the loch, not actually lochside. Dinner was delicious, though. Pork belly with mash and the most delicious carmelized carrots. Even in my cold-medicine-induced stupor, it was tasty.

The next day, after breakfast and settling up with Patrick, we went to see the Luss parish church with its very old gravestones, including a Viking hogback stone, basically lending credence to the claim that there has been a church on this site (or very near) for over 1500 years. It was a beautiful place and the church is lovely as well.

Now it was on to the Highlands.
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Old Jun 18th, 2016, 06:33 AM
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I am loving your report. I am flirting with the idea of a trip to Scotland in the fall, so this is very educational (in addition to your always entertaining writing style!). Looking forward to reading about the Highlands!
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Old Jun 18th, 2016, 08:10 AM
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I'm still enjoying your report as well. We stopped briefly in Luss to see Loch Lomond on our Rabbie's West Highlands day tour, and it was very pretty indeed. Glad you were able to appreciate it even in your medicine-induced stupor.
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